Jules Verne Translations That Don't Stink

Shortly after I graduated from college R. Talsorian published their fantasy steampunk RPG, Castle Falkenstein. Having missed out on Space: 1889 when it first came out this was my first steampunk RPG, though I had been exposed to the genre by Gibson and Sterling's novel The Difference Engine (a novel which, though I though I found the setting compelling, I did not particularly care for - must reread some day).

Jules Verne was one of the authors in the inspirational reading section of Castle Falkenstein. Heck, the game also made him into France's scientific advisor, having him responsible for their massive Verne Cannons which formed a sort of nuclear deterrent. 

With that in mind, one Sunday afternoon I was at a Barnes & Noble bookstore my new girlfriend (now my wife of nearly 16 years!).  On a whim I decided to pick up a Jules Verne novel. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. That night I started reading it, never having read any of his works before but having vague memories of the Disney adaptation of that work. I did not care for it at all. I found it boring, the dialogue awkward. Trying again - at least the Verne books were cheap - I picked up A Journey to the Center of the Earth. (I just realized this was about a year before amazon.com went online - you pretty much had to go to bookstores for your books. It was a nice bonus that Barnes & Noble had coffee bars...)

Move forward to early 2001 when I pick up GURPS Steampunk. It too talked about the awesomeness of Jules Verne. However it also specified which translators you should look for. Curious, I picked up the Naval Institute Press' 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea/Completely Restored and Annotated translated by Walter James Miller and Frederick Paul Walter. And it made a huge difference. I learned what a shoddy job the original 19th century translator had done. Dialoge compressed into summaries. Scientific research done by Verne horribly mistranslated. Much of Verene's humor removed. And anything offense to the United Kingdom removed or changed. With that in mind I began pursuing newer translations of his works. I learned what a masterpiece From the Earth to the Moon was and I journeyed up The Mighty Orinoco River. I haven't come close to completing my reading of Verne but I have made a habit of grabbing good translations when I find them so I have them in my library. With the advent of ebooks many of his books are also available digitally but that presents a problem - sites like amazon.com and bn.com tend to separate the newer translations from the old ones, meaning you have to go through a lot of work to find the right one. Here's a hint - if it is free or 99 cents it is probably not a good translation.

You could run an excellent 19th century game using Verne's works as your primary inspiration. Heck, every once in a while I wonder if it'd be worth it to learn French to read them in their original tongue. 

I'd like to offer people some tools to find the better translations. First, there are some specific translators to look for. The two who translated 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea above, Walter James Miller and Frederick Paul Walter, are two of the best Verne translators, sometimes alone and sometimes as collaborators. Other translators to look for include Stansford Luce, Peter Schulman, Edward Baxter, Sidney Kravitz, and William Butcher. 

There are three publishing houses who have been putting out a number of excellent Jules Verene translations. First is Wesleyan University Press' Early Classics of Science Fiction. They have published translations for:
  • The Begum's Millions (Verne, Jules, Stanford L. Luce, trans; Arthur B. Evans, ed; Peter Schulman, intro and notes)
  • The Mighty Orinoco (Verne, Jules; Luce, Stanford, trans; Evans, Arthur B., ed.; Miller, Walter James, intro. & notes)
  • Invasion of the Sea (Verne, Jules. Edward Baxter, trans.; Arthur B. Evans, ed. and introd.
  • The Mysterious Island (Verne, Jules. Sidney Kravitz, trans.; Arthur B. Evans, ed.; William Butcher, introd. and notes.)
  • The Kip Brothers (Verne, Jules. Stanford L. Luce, trans. Arthur B. Evans, ed. Jean-Michel Margot, intro and notes)

The University of Nebraska Press' Bison Frontiers of Imagination is another source of several excellent Jules Verene translations. Unlike Wesleyan University's titles I have found a number of these as ebooks. Their catalog includes: 
  • The Golden Volcano (translated by Edward Baxter)
  • The Chase of the Golden Meteor
  • Lighthouse at the End of the World  (translated by William Butcher)
  • The Secret of Wilhelm Storitz (translated by Peter Schulman)
  • The Meteor Hunt (translated by Frederick Paul Walter and Walter James Miller)

The third publishing house is Oxford University Press' Oxford World Classics. Their website is a bit confusing but these are readily available at most online bookstores (with ebooks for some of them as well). All were translated by William Butcher.
  • The Extraordinary Journeys: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (appears to be out of print)
  • The Extraordinary Journeys: Around the World in Eighty Days
  • The Adventures of Captain Hatteras 
  • The Extraordinary Journeys: Journey to the Centre of the Earth 

There are also some translations which don't fit into a series but are still worth picking up. I'll provide links to the US amazon.com store but they tend to be available elsewhere:

Robin Williams travels through time and takes Jules Verne for a trip...


  1. Hey boss, just throwing a recommendation in here for by far and away the best steampunk novel I've read. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Burton-Swinburne-Strange-Affair-Spring/dp/1906727503


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